Home >news >world >Israel boosts Gaza forces as killings heighten escalation threat

Jerusalem: Israel reinforced its troops near the Gaza Strip after the recent killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers fueled concerns that violence may escalate.

The troop build-up, including limited numbers of reservists, was ordered after rocket fire on Israel from Hamas- ruled Gaza intensified, army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said in a phone briefing on Thursday.

Our main mission down south now is to convey a message to Hamas that everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation, Lerner said. On the other hand, we are preparing for actions that can develop if they do not de-escalate.

Asked how a buildup defuses tensions, he replied, we have to be prepared.

Tensions between Israeli and Palestinians spiked after three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found dead in the West Bank on 30 June, killings Israel blames on Hamas. The killing of a Palestinian youth on Wednesday in Jerusalem, possibly in retribution, further inflamed the situation, sparking clashes in the city between police and Palestinians who attacked them with rocks and firebombs. The city was quiet on Thursday.

Police said they were looking into possible motives for the Palestinian teenager’s slaying, and reports he was forced into a vehicle. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed police and security officers to act as quickly as possible to find the killers and warned against vigilante actions. Hamas blamed the youth’s death on Israel.

Threats of retaliation

The killings on both sides have exacted threats of retaliation, and in this charged atmosphere, attacks from Gaza on southern Israel have multiplied. More than 60 rockets have been fired since the beginning of the week, including 16 on Thursday, the military said. Israel has ordered air strikes on Gaza in response to the rocket fire, which has damaged property without causing injuries.

On Thursday, aircraft hit 15 Hamas targets, including concealed rocket launchers and weapon storage facilities, the military said in an e-mailed statement. Ashraf al-Qedra, the Gaza emergency services chief, said at least 10 civilians were injured in northern Gaza.

Hamas must know that we are patient and have the strength to do what we need to do, Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid said on Thursday in the city of Sderot, a frequent target of rocket fire.

Lapid also criticized Israelis who have posted racist messages against Palestinians on Facebook and Twitter since the Israeli teenagers’ bodies were found. People who act with violence towards Arabs and engage in incitement on the social network and in other places, do not strengthen Israel, but weaken Israel, he said in comments relayed by his office. BLOOMBERG

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